Building Your First Five, Part 2: Creating A Skeleton

Today, we’ll be constructing a basic skeleton or framework for the 5-Color deck you’ll be playing. We do not want to fill it up with tutors, or removal, or mana, or whatever – not yet, anyway. All we want is the tasty nugget. Figuring out the skeleton, however, may be a little bit harder than it appears at first.

In my last article, we discussed building Five decks and the theory behind them. It’s just not the same thing as plopping down 36 spells and 24 lands and calling it a day in Standard: There is a lot more thought and care involved, if you want your deck to have a shot at winning.

(Yeah, I know that building a good sixty-card deck does not come from”plopping” cards, either. But still, it’s a much easier process by several degrees.)

I mentioned that, in order to show how to build Five Color deck, we would be building three decks in this article series. Those decks would be: Beasts, Control, and a third unknown variety. After several e-mail discussions, and a post over in the StarCity forums, I decided to change from Beasts to Slivers. Slivers are more popular, and they are simply sexier than Beasts. Plus, more Slivers are supposedly coming out soon, according to various rumors. I can also incorporate some of the tribal elements of Onslaught with a healthy dose of Sliver love. The third deck will be your basic Living Death deck: A popular archetype in the environment.

Before we move into the foundation of the deck, I wanted to take a moment and remind you that Five Color has a few basic rules, one of which is ante. But, remember that any rule can be broken at your dinner table. Feel free to play for:

Ghost Ante – Where a card is anted to indicate who goes first, but no player wins the ante.

Pack Ante – Where each player antes a pack of an in-print product

Spot Ante – Where the ante is for a specific card. (e.g.”I’ll play for your Rout and you play for my Mageta”)

Beverage (substitute whatever here) Ante – Where the loser buys the winner a drink (or whatever as substituted).

No Ante – No one says that your group has to play for ante at all!

Funky Money Ante – The ante that last year’s Invitational used, where no cards trade hands, but the amount of cards won and lost is tracked; the winner is whoever wins the most money points from ante.

For our purpose, we are going to assume that all decks constructed will use standard ante rules. As such, they will include a few ante cards that may be useless under other ante rules.

The goal of this segment of the series is to construct a basic skeleton or framework for the deck you have chosen. We do not want to fill it up with tutors, or removal, or mana, or whatever. All we want is the tasty nugget.

Figuring out the skeleton, however, may be a little bit harder than it appears at first. We may take the Sliver deck and say,”Hmmm, looks like we need Slivers. That’s about it for our foundation.”

But in fact, we need much more.

For our purposes, I want to build decks on both the cheap and the expensive side. I am going to make the Control deck cheap, because that should make it much harder, and more interesting to boot; the Living Death deck will be more expensive. Lastly, the Sliver deck will be in the middle, sometimes going expensive for the Dual Lands – but we have many ways of making the deck less expensive. As such, we will have our own little paradigm of cheap and expensive, in order to get a well-rounded view of Five Color deck construction.

So let’s tear into some theory, okay?

The basic premise behind the deck needs to be flushed out. You probably already have an idea of what you want your deck to look like. If you have, say, a wall deck, then you know what walls to include; if you have a Fluctuator deck, then you have a clue of what cards to throw in. And so forth. Remember that you have had an idea supposedly floating in your head for a week or so; you must have some ideas, then, of what to include.

Write them down.

Write down the cards that you would lose without: As a simple example, a Fluctuator deck without Fluctuators, for example, would be very poor. And so forth. These cards are what your deck is built on. Don’t include tutors, card search and so forth. Just the cards you need.

Some ideas, however, are more specific than others. If you have had a”beatdown” deck in your mind, you will now need to narrow it down: What sort of beatdown do you want to play? You need to focus.

You may also need to choose a color.

Because only eighteen cards are required in each color, most decks will want to focus on one or two colors. Beatdown, for example, may focus on green and red, with only 18 cards in each of blue, white, and black. Control, on the other hand, may focus on blue and black, or blue and white. Maybe you want to play a CounterBurn deck – blue and red is your focus, obviously. If your deck idea needs focus, do so now, before we move on.

Part of your focus may be determined by what cards you have access to. Suppose you have a player’s set of Savannah Lions sitting at home with no format to play them in – here, they fit snugly in a 3-2-1 Contract deck. Same with, say, an extra set of Winter Orbs or whatever. Your cards will dictate, in part, what your decks will look like. However, for your foundation, there is not a lot of maneuvering room. You need the key cards, and that is about it.

Now, what makes the skeleton the skeleton? Well, let’s start with our easiest deck: The Sliver Deck, which we will entitle”Sliver 250.” What will be the theme of this deck? You know, besides Slivers. Some Sliver decks used to contain Living Deaths – but we won’t go in that direction with his deck, because we have Patriarch’s Bidding from Onslaught instead. Slivers can make a great beatdown, but with 3-2-1 having better creatures for the same mana cost, Slivers will not start as fast, and therefore should be built around that.

Maybe our Slivers will help dictate what the deck should look like.

Sliver 250 – Skeleton

Of the 1/1s, Muscle Sliver is absolute key, while Winged Sliver is also very important. The Talon Sliver can probably be tossed aside for now, we’ll maybe put it back in later if we need white. The Clot Sliver is deceptively good in creature battles, so we’ll play it as well. Heart Sliver is unknown, and basically depends on how we want to flavor the deck.

Of the three-cost Slivers, Mnemonic Sliver and Mindwhip Sliver appear to be key. Horned Sliver and Armor Sliver are minor, with the Barbed Sliver being okay.

Of the Stronghold Slivers, all but the Spined Sliver are vitally important, and even that one is good. Sliver Queen is also really strong, although we probably only want a couple for now. Therefore, our initial essentials include:

4 Muscle Sliver

4 Winged Sliver

4 Mnemonic Sliver

4 Mindwhip Sliver

4 Clot Sliver

4 Spined Sliver

4 Hibernation Sliver

4 Crystalline Sliver

4 Victual Sliver

4 Acidic Sliver

2 Sliver Queen

4 Metallic Sliver

We can toss in other Slivers later if we want – but for now, we see a strong leaning towards blue and black. Remember that the gold Slivers can count towards either color as we choose. That gives us a lot of leeway in picking colors.

Now, we have our Slivers: Is there any spin that we want to give them? Let’s give them the previously mentioned Onslaught-Spin and use a few base cards from Onslaught that take Slivers into new heights. Specifically we are looking, for now, at four cards. There are others that I have in mind later, when we flesh out our deck – but, for now, these form the backbone of our deck:

4 Harsh Mercy

4 Shared Triumph

4 Patriarch’s Bidding

4 Riptide Replicator

All of these cards help our Slivers in different ways, although I am particularly fond of the Patriarch’s Bidding. Cover of Darkness may also see play if we have space later on.

Note that, of the cards used so far, none cost that much money. We will continue this theme, remember, except for some lands and mana production.

And that is, in a nutshell, how you build the backbone of your deck. Now that we have our Sliver deck under us, we can look at the colors. With four more cards added to the black side of the deck, we now have twelve cards there, which suggests that we should focus our energies towards the black side of things. We also have some support in white, so we may later add some more white cards, including the missing white Slivers. Still no extra red though, which tells me that red may be an excellent choice for a minimized color.

Living Death 250 – Skeleton

Let’s move on to the next choice, which is the Living Death deck. To begin, we will absolutely need the four Living Deaths. We may also want other forms of recursion – like Recurring Nightmare, which is restricted. What about Twilight’s Call or something? I’d prefer to go with the Living Deaths, straight up.

We need a way to fill up our graveyard with goodies; Buried Alive and Entomb are excellent ways of doing so… And having creatures that can be Buried Alive, yet come back, is key. Creatures like Squee, Krovikan Horror, Nether Shadow, and Ashen Ghoul will be very important for this deck. We may not want a full compliment of Squees until we figure out if we have a lot of ways to abuse him, so for now, we’ll play two copies. Same with the Horror – although it does double as a mana-intensive Goblin Bombardment, so we like him more. We begin with:

4 Living Death

1 Recurring Nightmare

4 Buried Alive

4 Entomb

2 Squee, Goblin Nabob

4 Nether Shadow

4 Ashen Ghoul

2 Krovikan Horror

4 Oversold Cemetery

2 Bazaar of Baghdad

I do think that we need to plan for some more recursion: Fortunately, Onslaught has given us just the card in Oversold Cemetery. This card will fit perfectly into our deck. We also need more ways of getting cards into the graveyard and Bazaar of Baghdad will do nicely. We can look at other ways when we flesh out our deck. We can also look at other graveyard creatures like Shard Phoenix, Undead Gladiator, Gigapede, and Carrionette later; but now, we have the core of our deck.

Control 250 – Skeleton

Our last deck is a little more difficult: I want to build a cheap control deck, and I also I want to focus on blue with support from black and white. I also need cards that don’t cost much to buy from StarCity.

Firstly, let’s investigate Wrath of God-type effects. Although an actual Wrath costs a pretty penny, many variants do not. Winds of Rath and Catastrophe fit right in – both into our budgets and into our deck.

We will need more, and luckily, Savage Twister is an uncommon. It’s cheap, fits in a color I might not use much, and does not hurt me like most Earthquake effects do. I also want to use No Mercy as my Moat or Abyss. You could use Aurification as well, if you have the space. So, we start with:

4 Winds of Rath

4 Catastrophe

4 No Mercy

4 Savage Twister

We will also need loads more control, and there are several options here. We want countermagic – and so Counterspell and Forbid will see play. We need more sweeping control, and any extra Akroma’s Vengeance or Routs you may have would be nice. We won’t add them due to their costs, however. For now, let’s add:

4 Counterspell

4 Forbid

We also need to draw cards. Fact or Fiction has proven itself time and again; it’s an expensive uncommon, but still only goes for a few bucks. Also, look to the restricted Stroke of Genius and Memory Jar to help out here. Neither of these cards cost much because they are banned from most environments. This is also a deck that needs Contract from Below badly. Lastly, the classic Ophidian is common and easy to cast – and we would be stupid to leave it out. Therefore, we now have:

4 Fact or Fiction

4 Ophidian

1 Stroke of Genius

4 Contract from Below

1 Memory Jar

There are scads of ways that our control deck can still go… But that will all come from fleshing out the deck at a later point. We could go black with some creature kill, toss in more countermagic, and finish with a little bounce. Or, we could gravitate more towards a more aggressive control approach with loads more creatures. Either way, the deck could go either way.

How is you deck’s skeleton working out? All you probably have for your deck is around 40 or so cards. This is the key aspect of your deck, and was probably really easy for you. Any yokel, myself included, knows how to find the key cards for a deck idea.

The next article will go over fleshing out your deck idea. This is where is starts becoming a challenge. Remember that Five Color is very different, with its own unique metagame. A lot of new players just don’t know where to go from here. How do I fix the deck to make it work? What should my deck begin to look like? That is what we will discuss next time.

For now, think about the different ways your deck can go. Look over your cards and see what you have available to you. Some of those crap rares from long ago will really shine when you have to use 250 cards.

Until Later,

Abe Sargent